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Reading my denomination’s magazine (By Faith), I was struck to the heart and literally brought to tears. And prayer.
The last article was on the relationships between ordained men in the church and women in the church. There were many wonderful, gospel-saturated aspects to those important relationships.
But two quotes broke my heart (especially, I am sure, because I have seen over and over again–across the nation–how true they can be):
– “Men are afraid of women. We’re often content to be at arms’ length from them.”
– “Some women mistrust the men ordained in leadership over them.”
Both statements reminded me of 1 John 4:18:
Where there is fear, there is not love (because perfect love casts out all fear).
How I pray that the love of God would so fill each one of us that we would love one another as Christ loves us.
That we would lay down our lives for one another.
Lead. Submit. Listen. Repent. Confess. Forgive.
Praying for the Bride!
[Re-post from 2006]
Excerpts from Chapter 10 of Peacemaking Women, “SHAME“
When a woman is filled with ungodly shame, her response to her own sin or fallenness is to say, ‘Something is wrong with me and I need to work harder to make this right.’ Ungodly shame is a self-indictment that overrides the truth of the gospel that Jesus Christ loves me and in him I am accepted. Another way to think about godly shame and ungodly shame is to note that while godly shame may have a component of legitimate and appropriate guilt (‘I did wrong’), ungodly shame condemningly says, ‘I am wrong.’ Sadly, ungodly shame directs people away from God and others, effectively trapping them in a lifestyle of shame-based living. Ungodly shame is an unbearable burden …
What is the cure for guilt? What is the cure for shame?
Nearly every believer is able to rapidly answer the first question. The cure for guilt is forgiveness. However, few are able to articulate the cure for shame without a great deal of reflection. And yet, Scripture speaks volumes about how to cure shame. To be women of shalom, it is crucial to understand how the concepts of adoption, intimacy, love, and delight impact our experience of shame. These gifts of grace help us to trust that we are accepted, just the way we are. The acceptance we have in Christ because we are adopted into his family is the surgeon’s scalpel that begins to carve away the festering poison of shame. The intimacy, love, and delight we experience because of our adoption all provide the healing balm that soothes the painful effects of shame.
Adoption. When we know without a doubt that God has accepted us, we come to understand the amazing truth that we are brought into membership in God’s family forever (1 John 3:1). The doctrine that speaks most powerfully to our guilt is justification and the doctrine that speaks most directly to our ungodly shame is adoption. While the cure for our guilt rests only in the forgiveness of God, the cure for our shame is found in God’s loving acceptance through adopting us into his family. Adoption washes our shame away in the same way that justification wipes away our guilt. Adoption says, ‘I love you, you belong to me, nothing will take you out of my hand. Nothing about you will cause me to reject you. Anything wrong with you will not cost us our relationship. I am God and I know you completely. And I love you’ (cf. John 10:29; Rom. 8:15–17; Gal. 4:4–7; 1 John 3:1) …
Intimacy. Intimacy is a biblical concept that permeates Scripture from beginning to end. It is the relational experience of knowing others as they really are and being known for who we really are. The desire for intimacy is strongly related to how God has made us in his own image. Although sufficient in himself, God desires that we know and love him, hence the First Commandment (‘You shall have no other gods before me’) and the Greatest Commandment (‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . .’). As people made in his image, we share the same desire to be intimately known and fully loved. Our creation in God’s image assumes intimacy as a normal part of relationships. Yet shame, that lethal disease, eats away at our hearts—especially the place where intimacy is desired and embraced. Shame destroys the desire and ability to be known by others. Shame kills the desire and ability to know and love others.
If genuine love flows out of true intimacy, and if love for God and others is our greatest calling, intimacy is a vital part of our human experience. We will not be vulnerable with people unless we know that we are safe with them because they love us intimately …
It is helpful to note that in this John 10 passage, intimacy is a crucial aspect of loving leadership and ministry. So often, our counseling with believers touches on the topic of how difficult it is to know Christian leaders. The hurts that are experienced by our pastors and elders often make them withdraw from people. The hurts that are experienced by all believers lead us to withdraw from relationships as well. When Christians are deprived of intimate, loving relationships with one another, shame often flourishes because we fear letting others see our weaknesses. Mistrust, bitterness, unforgiveness, and fear stand in the way of deep connection in the body of Christ.
Love. Paul gives the Philippians much to consider about the importance and wonder of having intimate human relationships when he writes, ‘And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God’ (Phil. 1:9–11). Paul uses powerful words—abounding love—to describe a powerful concept. Love doesn’t trickle in when love abounds and intimacy is present. Love surges forward—more and more. And shame flees in the face of love …
Acceptance and delight. We can love many people but delightful acceptance with intimate knowledge is a foretaste of the exquisite grace that awaits us when we are reunited with Jesus Christ face-to-face. Delight is a special form of acceptance that profoundly heals shame …
Delight dispels shame. Shame cannot breathe or live in the flood of loving, rejoicing delight. Of course, the ultimate foundation for our delight is found in Jesus Christ. He is the Lover of our Souls who delights in us and eternally dispels our shame. Even if we do not yet experience delight in earthly relationships, we can rest secure in God’s delight in us.
From Shame to Shalom
Even as I (Tara) have spent the day working on this chapter, I have struggled with shame. My husband is caring for our little baby so that I can concentrate on writing. Shame tells me, ‘If you weren’t such a lousy wife, you would take better care of your husband.’ I look around my home and see my attempts at cobbling our used furniture and old lamps into a warm and inviting home. Shame whispers, ‘If you were a better homemaker, you would know how to decorate and create a beautiful environment. You can’t even take care of a home. There’s dog hair everywhere.’ We are working on having our daughter, Sophia, take naps in her crib instead of in our arms. But as she cries in protest, my shame indicts me, ‘You don’t have any idea what you’re doing with your baby. What makes you think you can be a mother?’
Can you imagine? Even as I am here meditating hour after hour on the many truths of Scripture as to how the gospel speaks directly to my shame, I still struggle. Some of you reading this will not be able to relate to what I’m saying. I thank God for that! I am always refreshed and blessed to share fellowship with people who do not struggle with the foreboding, horrible, vague sense that they are not good enough. Their confidence and trust in the Lord is like a refreshing breeze or a sweet melody. To not live in shame is a glimpse of heaven.
But others of you know exactly what I am talking about. You know what it is like for your shame to condemn you. You, too, struggle with horrible thoughts of your own unworthiness, dirtiness, and inadequacies. Dear sisters in Christ, there is hope! Let us run to our saving, forgiving, adopting, and accepting God. The Prince of Peace knows our hearts, our pasts, our futures, and our every deed—and he delights in us. God delights in you! He, in his awesome act of love, offered himself as a sacrifice, that we might live eternally as righteous children of God. Forever.
To know that Jesus knows us, loves us, accepts us, and has declared us righteous, is the first step toward seeing shame forever washed away. Being known, loved, and accepted by others dispels that shame even more. When we, as fallen sinful creatures, can view ourselves with the eyes of Christ, shalom abounds richly. In the light of the love of Christ, shame gives way to shalom. In grateful and humble response we cry: ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ (2 Cor. 9:15).
[A re-post from 2009]
I recently received an encouraging note from a real-life friend from grad school. She references a telephone conversation we had years ago, but most of you will, I’m sure, recognize in her story that ALL I did was share with her the exact same love and counsel that a friend had shared with me years ago. Plus, ironically, even though she credits me with this conversation (so apparently I did have it with her), I was actually really REALLY convicted when I read what she wrote! I’m a little lacking in the love department for certain people these days. Oh, I can try to justify it all I want. But mostly, I’m just a selfish person who would prefer to spend time with people I enjoy (i.e., people who don’t criticize, judge, and attack me. Regularly.) But many of us have certain, ummmm, challenging relationships in our lives—a neighbor; fellow mom in a sports league, music ensemble, church group; your mother’s third husband (some may call him your stepfather, but you prefer “mother’s third husband”; boss at work; church leader; daughter-in-law … I could go on and on.
But instead, I’ll share my friend’s testimony below. (I trust she won’t mind a few emphases and editorial comments added in by yours truly.) And I’ll also encourage you to always keep at the ready the classic CCEF article on dealing with difficult people in your church. I need to staple that one to my HEAD I need it so often. (Says the difficult person in her church …)
Hope you enjoy! Happy Monday to you all—
Hi again, dear Tara,
Here is my story that I would like to share with whoever would like to hear how God uses my dear friend Tara for His peacemaking purposes in my life …
When I called you almost a decade ago now, I wanted to tell you how hard I had tried to get along with a very significant person in my life. I wanted you to hear how I had done everything a Christian should do. I wanted you to hear how hard it was to try to get along and tell me that isn’t what God wanted for me. Which is exactly what you did, just upside down and backwards from what I expected! Where I expected to hear you tell me I had done all I can do, you told me I really hadn’t even started (offer your bodies as living sacrifices? You mean this is SUPPOSED to be HARD?!?).
I had gone to a Peacemaker Seminar with this person (supposedly to benefit a different relationship and I was just being supportive, but of course I secretly hoped this person’s heart would soften and ways of relating with me would change as well). I had done all the steps I learned at the conference; I was done, right?
When I called to ask for your help, you suggested we read Romans 12 — backwards. As we talked about not being overcome by evil but overcoming evil with good, I wasn’t sure calling you was going to go quite how I had in mind. We moved on to not taking revenge and giving the thirsty a drink — I remember a sense of bewilderment beginning.
This was real conflict! This person had really hurt me, over and over, stomped on my heart and left it for dead. And you’re telling me I’m supposed to be nice? [EDITOR’S NOTE: My friend, A., and I can have a good chuckle at this comment now because OF COURSE I would NEVER tell ANYONE they have to be nice in this situation. NO WAY. Lay down your life, bless, do good, pray for, and LOVE this person? Ummmm. Yeah. That I’d say because, well, Jesus said it. But I’d NEVER say you have to be NICE. Who could ever do that? 😉 ]
Tara, I couldn’t put on a happy face, but not in the middle of such heart-wrenching, core-of-my-soul anguish! I admit that my ears did perk up a little at the “I will repay” part. Finally, we were getting somewhere. [EDITOR’S NOTE: I can TOTALLY relate to liking that verse too. A lot. But isn’t that so telling about my stinkin’ ol’ heart? When I think about MY sins and weaknesses, I cry out for MERCY. I am grateful for God’s LONG-SUFFERING and KINDNESS. But when I think about THAT’S PERSON’S sins and weaknesses, I demand JUSTICE. Vengeance. I am graceless and impatient. SHIVER! It really creeps me out to see my heart.]
Even now as I re-read the “next” verses, I remember feeling how my strategies and selfish desires became exposed one by one: Bless those who persecute you… Live in harmony… Do not be conceited… Love must be sincere. Sin-cere. Without mask. Without hypocrisy. What would sincere love for this person look like?
Oh, my friend, it has taken years to begin to acknowledge the depth of manipulation of which I am guilty in this relationship! Over and over I look for the good I can cling to and see how short I fall of true brotherly love for this person. Somewhere around “Keep your spiritual fervor” and “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”, I think it started dawning on me that you were telling me I was nowhere near done reconciling.
By then, I was ready to hear that I had been thinking of myself more highly than I ought, according to how I saw myself. I could see no use in the Body for the person I was in conflict with. I had been hoping you would tell me I could, in good conscience, completely eliminate contact and put that relationship to death. One of the most annoying things about that person is/was giftedness in a specific area. I felt that because those gifts seemed more like an anomaly in an otherwise bad person, I could write that person off as useless and the gifts as not valuable, even nauseating. It continues to shock the socks off of me that God uses gifts to accomplish His purposes, even in people who do bad things. Thank goodness, because part of this journey has been discovering that I, too, do lots of bad things and often the good I do through the gifts God has given me seems like an anomaly, too.
As we concluded, I began to see how seeking to actively love this person despite continued failings and hurt was truly a living sacrifice, yet completely warranted because of God’s mercy toward me. What a relief that God doesn’t require me to change this person for Him to be pleased with me, that simply the offer of myself is enough.
I began to see how wildly God’s mercy diverges from the pattern of the world. [EDITOR’S NOTE: And so sadly, how wildly God’s mercy diverges from the pattern of the counsel you so often receive even from Christian sources: “God wants you to be happy!” “You don’t deserve this!” “She’s an antagonist— God doesn’t expect you to be around her!” “What do YOU get out of this relationship? He’s dysfunctional / an addict / a “toxic person”—cut him off!” Don’t get me wrong, of course, certain situations ABSOLUTELY require strong, careful responses—I’m thinking of truly destructive and dangerous behaviors related to addictions, sexual and physical abuse, mental illnesses, out of control rage. Believe me. I know. But what does it look like for the resources of the entire church (and sometimes the civil authorities and medical helps too) to be brought to bear for WISDOM to combine with LOVE? Not for fences or boundaries to be erected solely to protect US, but to minister God’s grace in its various forms to unbelievers (evangelism) and believers alike (discipleship / discipline). Oh, A! You have totally nailed this and I am so, so convicted by what you wrote.]
Tara, I began to long to be transformed so that I could test what His will for me was (even in this awful relationship). I’d love to sit down with you and tell you about the journey that began with that conversation; it is transforming how I do that particular relationship, and transforms every close relationship I have. Do you know that conversation came in a season of miscarriages, where God was telling me how He was going to put together our family, instead of me telling Him? [EDITOR’S NOTE: I didn’t know, A. I’m so sorry! I see photos of your amazing family and I have to be careful to not covet my neighbor’s adopted daughter. Oh, I didn’t know, A. Such sorrow!]
I am a completely different kind of mother for having begun that journey at that time.
Many more opportunities have come along since to look at my grotesque sin and how it has ravaged my relationships. I am so grateful for your kind, gentle look at my sinfulness; my heart has been encouraged many times over that you were willing to look with me at the reality of my heart and not turn away in disgust. Once (hopefully more?) after that, I was able to listen to the story of sin in another dear one’s life and respond in grace instead of discard the relationship in disgust. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Oh oh oh. But isn’t this just SO true? The more we see how wretched we actually are—the doctrine of total depravity is not just an interesting theological idea!—the more we can hear of our brother or sister’s vile sin without shock or rejection because we are overwhelmed with this thought: “I’m just like her. I’m just like him. Yes, my sin may look different. I may not struggle with this exact sin, but I definitely struggle. We both need the Savior. Let’s run to Him!”]
Thank you, my friend, for the encouragement and example. [Thank you, A. I love you!]
[Re-post from 2010]
One of my workshops at next month’s 2018 Women’s Leadership Conference (“Sticky Ministry: Word-based and Relationally-driven Women’s Ministry”) is on this topic of extremely difficult relationships. Here is the descriptive paragraph for the workshop. Hope to see you in Atlanta!
Our Stickiest, Murkiest Relational Quagmires (Tara Barthel) – How do we adhere to God’s Word in our most difficult relationships? Do our covenantal vows require us to “stick close” to everyone? What about when inter-generational differences, personality clashes, and social media mishaps make it so much easier to simply run away? Do we ever get to push back and defend ourselves when the relationships involve addiction, physical and emotional abuse, and huge violations of trust? In this workshop, we are going deep into the murkiest of relational quagmires with the hope (and confidence!) that God’s Word is sufficient to guide us.
Why was I so afraid? I had forgotten about the overlapping spheres of Authority, Power, and Responsibility
The other day, I was extremely anxious about a certain meeting I had to have. It was strange to feel so anxious, because the meeting was really about something fun and relaxing. And yet, I was obviously stressed—more and more stressed as the meeting time approached.
And so I prayed. I journaled. And I called a friend. Her patient listening, insightful questions, and wise counsel were just what I needed to see more clearly what was really going on in the depths of my soul:
I was keenly aware that this person was involved in a number of conflicts and stressful situations that were hurting people I care about. Honestly? I knew he was well-meaning, loving, and trying hard to love God and neighbor. But for whatever reason (immaturity, blindness, emotional and relational cluelessness?), he still left “a wake of hurting, bleeding people” behind him (just as my first coauthor and I did when we were in our 20’s).
And I was afraid to meet with him because I couldn’t fix him. I couldn’t fix the situations or resolve the conflicts (that really had nothing to do with me). I couldn’t protect myself from being hurt by him. And most frighteningly, he reminded me WAY TOO MUCH of my 20-something-self.
So how did I respond to this insight? I repented. I repented of my over-fixation on SELF that was really at the heart of my inappropriate emotions. (Ididn’t want to be hurt. I wanted to protect the people I care about. I wanted to fix things. I wanted him to stop doing this!)
I also remembered that just as God had brought wise and mature Christians around me to help me to grow, God was faithfully bringing wise and godly men and women around this person too. God is sanctifying us! And He will complete the task of conforming us to the image of His Son.
And in one of those, “I’ve said this to other people a THOUSAND times! Why did I forget to tell MYSELF this too?!” moments, I also remembered:
- I have no authority over this man. Other people do (workplace, church). But I don’t. So why I am getting myself into a lather over trying to protect others from him? The leaders are on it. I can pray, encourage, love, and trust that God has put those authorities in place for His purposes. And I am not in authority in this situation.
- I really don’t even have much power in this situation. I have maybe a little bit of power, a little bit of influence. I have some opportunities to reflect on the situation and share a little counsel or encouragement (like this meeting). But I’m not a close friend of his. I’m not formally being brought in by any of the conflicted parties to assist as a mediator. So really? I don’t have much power.
- Which would totally freak me out if I felt I had RESPONSIBILITY. Yes. There it is. I was taking on the responsibility for these situations even though I have neither the authority nor the power to “fix them.” Feeling responsible and not having what you need to do anything about it? This is a recipe for stress and misery. (It’s why so many people quit their jobs! They are given tasks to do without the authority or power to do them and then they are blamed when things don’t get done. It’s just awful to feel that way.)
But in my situation, even a cursory review of the fact that I don’t have any authority in this situation and I have only a very SMALL amount of power, QUICKLY showed me that I was taking on responsibilities that were not mine. Oh, sure, I have a certain level of responsibility—to love God and neighbor, to work hard to protect the unity of the saints through the bond of peace, etc. But beyond that, these conflicts were not MY conflicts and I didn’t have to pick them up and carry them as though they were. (“Not my table!” as the waitresses say.”)
And so. I went to the meeting feeling happy, content in Christ, eager to enjoy by brother … and everything went just fine. Whew! This relational stuff is HARD. But really? It’s not even about the relationship with this person, is it? It’s about my heart-orientation and whether I live out what I believe—that God is God; I am not God; God is in control of everything and He is good; I am neither in control of everything nor good. But I am His. And this is His world.
“This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.
This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.”
[A re-post from 2012]
Recently, I was hurt deeply by a family member who used to be close to me. It would not be appropriate to go into the details in this public forum, but suffice it to say, my heart was gravely wounded. The hurt was so deep, in fact, that at first I did not even understand it myself. Like a bad cut with a sharp knife—it doesn’t even hurt at first. You can see both sides of your living flesh split open and for a millisecond there isn’t even blood, but then. But then. The blood starts to gush and the pain is extreme and you know that this is not a simple wound.
So it was for me. Someone said words to me that didn’t just hurt me in the present day, they reached back literally to my childhood and hurt me there too. I realized the depth of my pain when a friend rushed up to me after church just to give me a hug, say she loved me, and lavish some special treats on Sophia and Ella (in her role as “spiritual grandmother” to our girls). All of a sudden, I started to cry. Just a little. But when I was home, in the privacy of my own room, alone with Fred, I wept.
And I talked—I talked it out. What was hurting me so badly? Why was it hurting me so badly? Then I wept some more. I did what my first book (Peacemaking Women) says to do:
Feel it. Name it. Grieve it. Entrust it to God. And move on.
It sure took me a few days to allow myself to feel it, name it, and grieve it. But the “entrusting to God” part was a little bit of a rough ride too.
At first, I kept trying to excuse the other person. “He’s had a hard life.” “Her childhood was so difficult.” “He has been suffering greatly lately.” “She is very lonely and in a lot of pain.” But somehow, as always, excusing did not move my heart toward being able to actually forgive (either unilaterally—“overlooking” on The Slippery Slope of Conflict, or after going to the person and talking with them—“reconciliation” on the slope).
But do you know what did move my heart toward compassion, grace, even merciful pity, kindness, and a desire to bless? My little kids’ theology class on Easter week. As I read the Scriptures of Christ’s passion, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, and suffering, my heart was pierced. But not pierced by the wounds of a friend; not focused on ME, focused instead on CHRIST. This Glorious Man Who did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but instead made Himself nothing. The One Who became SIN in order to defeat sin, Satan, Hell itself—for us. For you. For me.
Oh, you should have seen the look of shock on the face of “my” kids in that theology class when we read of His time in the garden; his heart was breaking; he was suffering so greatly; and he asked his friends to stay with him and pray. And what did they do? They fell asleep! (Wide eyes. “I can’t believe it!”) And then he went to pray, tears of blood, and his friends, again … SLEEP. (“No way!”) Yes, way. Abandoned even by those closest to Him. But the worst was yet to come.
Not the physical suffering—that was, and is, unimaginable. We all cringed as we talked through the thorns being hammered into His head. There were actual tears as we discussed what it meant to be whipped with a leather whip with sharp rocks and pieces of glass in it. But then, when the Father turned His face away and Jesus was forsaken? It was all just too much to bear. Jesus could have stopped it all! He could have called down legions of angels to rescue Him. It was totally UNFAIR! Jesus had never, NEVER done anything wrong. So why? Why? Why did this have to happen?
For you and for me. To rescue us from our sin, Someone had to pay the price. And Jesus paid that price.
Ah. Now I’m ready. Ready to forgive anyone anything; ready to forgive any hurt in this temporal life—because Jesus forgives me, how could I possibly hold this against you?
If you are hurting today, remember to grieve! Otherwise, we just poison ourselves with our bitterness and become spiritually sick in our stoicism.
Jesus understands your sorrow. He does. He understands it far better than even YOU understand it. And you have a Comforter. A Cleft in the Rock. A Loving Shepherd who cares for His sheep. Not just a Friend, a Brother. A Rescuer. Jesus is your Prophet, Priest, and King. Run to Him. Be amazed by His glory! The Lamb without blemish who appears to have been slain but look! He is alive forever more. Your inheritance—kept for you by God, it will never spoil or perish. Living Water! the Bread of Life.
Even rotten fathers know to give good gifts to their children. How much more your Perfect, Heavenly Father? Remember—behind your temporal suffering now (behind a frowning providence), there is a sure and smiling grace (face).
Heading into my day just a little lighter—
A little less bitter—
A little more focused on the Lamb—
[A re-post from 2010]
In cleaning out my office yesterday, I came across my very old pack of Bible memory cards. I used to go through them every day (until I had the verses memorized) and I would also review various sermon illustrations, teachings I received from friends and spiritual mothers, people and ministries for intercessory prayer, and the (many!) things I needed to repent of. A lot.
It’s embarrassing to see how far I still have to go re: these important areas of my life. But it’s also sweet, too, to see God’s grace at work in my life and His kindness and care for me, even while I am still so very much in process.
I wonder how many of you recognize any of these notes from various teachings you have heard from me? See. It’s really true that all I ever do is repeat what wise people tell me …
- I can only do my best (not always “the best”)
- Only two tasks: love God and love people
- Take time: productivity in growth is measured in MONTHS looking backward, not in terms of a project or one day or one week
- The learning curve is exhausting
- Our love for God is so closely related to our love for people that we will never love God more than we love people (1 John)
- The wonderful thing about family is that deeper love kicks in
- Character is a combination of opposite virtues: tough minded and tender-hearted
- Emotions follow thinking. Be biblical!
- Hebrews 10: When we feel alone, we are vulnerable. It is not good to be alone.
- Put off idols (food, order, comfort, perfect service); be renewed in the Truth; Put on Christ.
- We always withdraw FROM and TO so learn to be a great withdrawer! A professional, expert withdrawer. Withdraw TO God (not to an idol because idols do not satisfy)
- The biblical view is that withdrawal is a mark of maturity and spiritual discipline
- The results of a sedentary life: spiritual intimacy with God is damaged; bad role model for future children; 30 lbs overweight (and growing!) so I lack energy and don’t sleep well and can’t fit in clothes; GUILT on top of life’s challenges; bad steward of body and health; unable to bear pregnancy well.
- The blessings of obedience especially regarding food / “escaping” / toning and activity: spiritually (intimacy with God, worship, journaling, devotion to God is alive and strong!); emotionally (more balanced, calm, kind, patient, godly, loving, hopeful, not despairing); physically (strong, able to be active, can carry bags, walk, bike, hike, SCUBA dive, swim, ski; can wear clothes and be confident and modest); more energy to bear pregnancy, travel, teach; better sleep and more time).
- “Lord please help me to stretch, tone, have activity today. Eat for hunger only and do so with moderation and control (not overindulge). Identify my desires and meet them legitimately (God-honoring) or be self-disciplined.”
SUFFERING (ESPECIALLY IN RELATIONSHIPS)
- Remember! Perspective. Patience. Prayer. LOVE THEM WELL!
- It is hard when you are attacked. It is always a shock when a Christian brother or sister attacks. If we unearth an area of sin, as usual, the other person wants to make YOU the problem.
- Memorize it: “I pity you for your graceless criticism of me because it reveals the appalling condition of your heart.”
- This may be an angry, defensive, hard-hearted, Hebrews 3 Christian. Don’t be overly vulnerable and open. This person may be doing you intentional evil. Act with respect and distance. God knows you need this to grow stronger and wiser.
- Bear up patiently under the pain of unjust suffering and learn what God wants you to learn. Be patient. Relax. Give yourself time to get through this.
- Breathe deeply! Look around and enjoy life. Don’t forget to live.
[A re-post from 2013]
Talking with someone about an apparent sin or temptation has to be one of the most difficult things to do in all of life.
Yesterday, my five year-old brought some excellent questions about why Galatians 6:1 “rescue” and Matthew 7 “helping someone with the speck in their eye” are not the same thing as being the “proud, super-holy, Pharisee people” (in Luke 7) who judged the woman who was wiping Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair:
“Aren’t we JUDGING and thinking we are BETTER when we talk with people about this hard stuff?” she asked me, so sincerely.
What a good question! And what a loooooooong conversation we had to unpack the distinctions in those biblical passages. I found myself time and time again (internally) referring to some of the content in my first book, “Peacemaking Women” as I talked with her:
As difficult as it is, sometimes we are called to go humbly to the people who have wronged us in order to help them to understand better how they have contributed to our conflicts. Of course, when appropriate, we should be quick to overlook (Prov. 19:11) and we must always first confess our own sins (Matt. 7:5). But if we cannot overlook, after we have confessed our own sins, we are called to help the person who has offended us by gently restoring her (Gal. 6:1) and helping her remove the speck from her eye (Matt. 7:5).
Apart from the gospel, such humble and loving confrontations would be unthinkable. Sinners simply do not have the right to point out someone else’s sin, do they? Yes, they do. Genuine biblical love requires that sometimes we confront others. Jesus explicitly taught us: ‘If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over’ (Matt. 18:15). The fact that we too are sinners does not remove the responsibility to lovingly confront. Nowhere in Scripture does our own sinfulness remove from us the requirement to help others see their faults and deal with them. It is the grace of God that enables us to minister truth, mercy, hope, and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ through biblical confrontation. We confront because we are compelled by love. As John Stott has often said, ‘Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.’5 One way we care for and rescue one another is to gently confront.
Galatians 6:1–2 says, ‘Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ The term ‘restore’ in this passage means to mend in the same way we might mend holes in a net or set a broken bone. The term ‘caught,’ however, includes an element of surprise. In the same way that a fisherman might cast his net over the side of his boat only to realize, too late, that his leg is caught in the net, we can be caught off guard by our own sin. The weight of the net pulls the fisherman over the side and he begins to sink. He can barely hold on with one hand to the side of the boat, but if he lets go of the boat to try to free his leg, he will drown. He is not strong enough to pull himself back into the boat. He is caught.
Sadly, metaphorically speaking, if this fisherman was a Christian caught in sin, many of us would mock him: ‘Hey! Jerry! I thought you were a fisherman? No fisherman would ever let himself get stuck like that. Hey, you guys, come look at Jerry, he claims to be a fisherman. Can you believe what he did?’ A woman is caught in the sin of gossip or gluttony and we cluck behind our church bulletins, ‘She claims to be a Christian.’ A man leaves his wife and children, or is incarcerated for embezzling, and we say, ‘No Christian would ever get caught in a mess like that.’ Instead of such a proud and condemning response, we ought to run to the side of the boat and help our brother or sister. ‘Jump in! Hold his neck up so he can breathe! Get a knife and cut the net! Go and get help. He’s in trouble and he needs us!’ This should be the response of the church.
Instead of such rescue, when someone offends us, our natural inclination is often to go angrily to confront her or embarrass her. But anytime we want to confront, a red flag is raised and it is probably best to wait. When we are eager to confront, we are often acting out of selfish motivations. If it grieves us to confront another person, and we do so prayerfully and lovingly, it is probably the right thing to do. Our purpose in going to the other person must never be to make ourselves ‘feel better.’ Godly confrontation seeks to restore by glorifying God, serving the other person, and helping to promote unity within the church.
One final point under ‘Gently Restore’: even if a proper and loving confrontation hurts, it will not ultimately cause harm. God would never command us to do something without also intending a morally good result. I (Judy) remember a time in my twenties when my supervisor assessed me for a promotion and rejected me. His candid words were deeply wounding, yet they provided me with opportunity for reflection and growth. As painful as his words were, they never ultimately harmed me. They were used by God to help me change. Paul writes of this godly sorrow in 2 Corinthians: ‘Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret . . .’ (2 Cor. 7:8–10a).”
[A re-post from 2010]
I am currently doing summaries of our church’s summer women’s study on “Disordered Affections.” You can read week 1 here, week 2 here, week 3 here, week 4 here. This is a summary from week 5 and the handouts for today’s (closing) session …
SUMMARY NOTES FROM SESSION 5 of my church’s Summer Women’s Study – “Disordered Affections”
1. REVIEW FROM PREVIOUS WEEKS
Throughout our study, we have considered James 4:1-3 (“monster wants” and “functional idolatry”); the role of the heart / Satan, the world, our flesh; the use of the terms “addiction” and “sin”; Numbers 11 and “the addiction pattern”; Jeremiah 2:1-8 and 23-32 and when something or someone other than God is functionally ruling our lives; innocent pleasures and guilty pleasures; Romans 12:1-3 and how our bodies matter/our bodies are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Last week, we discussed why “disciplining the body” can be so incredibly hard (idolatry!) and our readings for the week focused on when we are planning to sin again (Welch), precious remedies against Satan’s devices (Brooks), and the hole in our holiness (Kevin DeYoung).
2. DISCUSS “The Hole in our Holiness”
“The hole in our holiness is that we don’t really care much about it. Passionate exhortation to pursue gospel-driven holiness is barely heard in most of our churches … Too many sermons are basically self-help seminars on becoming a better you. That’s moralism and it’s not helpful.”
“My fear is that … we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to. Shouldn’t those most passionate about the gospel and God’s glory also be those most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness? I worry that there is an enthusiasm gap and no one seems to mind.”
“No matter what you profess, if you show disregard for Christ by giving yourself over to sin—impenitently and habitually—then heaven is not your home.”
“The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19-20a) … NOT “teaching them all that I have commanded you” but “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”
“The demands of Jesus cannot be separated from his person and work. Whatever holiness he requires is as the fruit of his redeeming work and for the display of his personal glory. But in all this necessary nuance, do not miss what many churches have overlooked: Jesus expects obedience from his disciples. Passing on the imperatives of Christ is at the heart of the Great Commission.”
“Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or moral exertion. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives (what God has done) and imperatives (what we should do) that we get leery of letting biblical commands lead uncomfortably to conviction of sin. We’re scared of words like diligence, effort and duty.”
“The reality is that holiness is plain hard work, and we’re often lazy. We like our sins, and dying to them is painful. Almost everything is easier than growing in godliness.”
3. DISCUSS “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices”
“Satan has snares for the wise and snares for the simple; snares for hypocrites, and snares for the upright; snares for generous souls, and snares for timorous souls; snares for the rich, and snares for the poor; snares for the aged, and snares for youth. Happy are those souls that are not taken and held in the snares that he has laid!”
“Satan convinces you this is only a little sin. Satan tries to convince you the temptation you face, the sin you are drawn to, is just a small and a harmless one. He wants you to believe this is a sin you may commit without any great danger to your soul.”
“Satan works in you to convince you to regularly compare yourself with those who are reported or reputed to be worse than you are.”
“Satan will convince you that you do not need to be afraid of this sin, that there is no real danger in this sin, for God is full of mercy, he delights in mercy, is ready to show mercy, never wearies of mercy and is more prone to pardon than to punish. And as he presents God’s mercy, he deliberately conceals God’s justice.”
“God will not remove the temptation to sin, except you turn from the occasion of sin.” “Outward sins are of greater infamy, but inward sins are of greater guilt.”
4. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
- Further study (privately, with a friend, in another group setting): All of the books we have cited this summer (especially “How People Change”); Chester’s “You Can Change”; Chapell’s “Holiness by Grace”; Bridges’ “Disciplines of Grace.” Others?
- Pastoral and lay help: Your pastors, elders, small group leaders, and many wise and loving women in the church are here to help.
- (And how can you be helping others?)
[A re-post from 2013]
SUMMARY NOTES FROM SESSION 4 of the Summer Women’s Study – “Disordered Affections”
Throughout our study, we have considered James 4:1-3 (“monster wants” and “functional idolatry”); the role of the heart / Satan, the world, our flesh; the use of the terms “addiction” and “sin”; Numbers 11 and “the addiction pattern”; Jeremiah 2:1-8 and 23-32 and when something or someone other than God is functionally ruling our lives; innocent pleasures and guilty pleasures. Last week, we looked specifically at Romans 12:1-3 and how we are called to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God” because our bodies matter and our bodies are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”).
This week, we read and discussed a chapter from Elisabeth Eliott’s book, Discipline: The Glad Surrender. It was on “The Discipline of the Body” and I had us read and discuss it to prepare us for another excerpt from Ed Welch’s book, Addictions: A Banquet at the Grave. Here are just a few excerpts from the Welch book:
- “Idolatry is perhaps the most dominant image in Scripture. It abounds in potential applications … All sin is summarized as idolatry.”
- “Old Testament idols were concrete, physical expressions of new loyalties and commitments that had been established in the human heart. The prohibition against idolatry is ultimately about “idols of the heart” (see Ezek. 14:3).”
- “Scripture permits us to broaden the definition of idolatry so that it includes anything on which we set our affections and indulge as an excessive and sinful attachment … The problem is not the idolatrous substance; it is the false worship of the heart.”
- “We don’t want to be ruled by alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, food, or anything. No, we want these substances or activities to give us what we want: good feelings, a better self-image, a sense of power, or whatever our heart is craving. Idols, however, do not cooperate. Rather than mastering our idols, we become enslaved by them …”
- “How can these lifeless idols exert such power? They dominate because of a powerful but quiet presence that hides behind every idol: Satan himself. As obedience to God demonstrates our allegiance to him, so when we set our affections on created objects, we demonstrate our affinity for Satan. Therefore, God’s Word reminds us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [or alcohol and drugs], but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).”
That sets us up for our last session (coming soon!) when we will discuss Ed Welch’s article: When You Are Planning to Sin Again and our excerpts from “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” (as lead by Tim Challies in his current “Reading Classics Together” series).
(Sorry to not give more details and personal anecdotes in this summary—I am DEEP into prep for my service to over 500 women in Lima, Peru next month and time is super blessed but super tight.)
[This is a re-post from 2013]
SUMMARY NOTES FROM SESSION 3 of the Summer Women’s Study – “Disordered Affections”
REVIEW FROM PREVIOUS WEEKS
Three weeks ago, we began our summer study discussing what the term “disordered affection” means; studying James 4:1-3 (“monster wants” and “functional idolatry”); what makes our affections disordered (the heart / Satan, the world, our flesh); our past efforts to turn away from disordered affections; and the use of the terms “addiction” and “sin.” Ed Welch’s book, “Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave” has been extremely helpful to us.
Two weeks ago, we were greatly helped by Pastor Tim Keller’s sermons, Sin as Slavery as we looked at Numbers 11. His analysis of “the addiction pattern” was particularly helpful to us as we considered how easily the very things we have craved become what we loathe. Whenever we deal with distress by turning to an agent (rather than God), we develop tolerance (we need more and more and our joy decreases), we are often stuck in denial and rationalization, and our willpower is trashed as we try to deal with the distress with the very thing the caused our distress.
SUMMARY FROM WEEK 3
Last week, we were deeply helped by Pastor Tim Keller’s sermon How Sin Makes Us Addicts as we studied Jeremiah 2:1-8 and 23-32. It was hard to face, but we saw how when we don’t have intimacy with God; if He is not the center of our lives, then we have something else as our (functional) god. We also agreed with his analysis that the way to tell you are addicted is to ask how you respond when you are in trouble and the agent is taken away. What then? Do we fret? Are we distraught? Do we think “we’re never going to be able to make it?” If so, we are caught. “Addicted.” Enslaved. In bondage. Something or someone other than God is functionally ruling our lives in that moment. It might be something good, it might be something inherently evil. The problem is not the thing; the problem is us … we love it too much.
We were also greatly helped by a careful review of David Powlison’s booklet, “Pleasure.” I personally think this is one of the very best things Dr. Powlison has ever written and that’s saying something because he is a prolific writer and I’m a huge fan. Here are just a few highlights from our discussion of this biblically-rich, practical & helpful resource:
- Many of us had never considered how God created pleasure and that pleasure in and of itself is not inherently sinful or evil. This also challenged us to consider carefully just how often we “indulge” in our “guilty pleasures” NOT because they are even pleasurable any longer … but simply for the distraction.
- It was a delight to hear each other’s real pleasure (“better joys” and “more lasting and truer pleasures”). We shared openly about “what gives us pure and simple pleasure, truly refreshes us, helps us to lay our cares down and get a fresh perspective on life.” It would be inappropriate for me to share what others said—but I may shock a few of you when I say that one of my deepest pleasures in recent time has been my time working cattle on our friends’ ranch. I absolutely LOVED the refreshing, relaxing, world-class view of their back property; the intelligence and gentleness (and stubbornness and ridiculousness) of moving a herd of mothers and babies (not the technical ranch terms!!) through gates and into different pastures so they would be where they needed to be for branding. L.O.V.E.D. I.T. I can’t wait to get to do it again.
- It was also humbling and eye-opening to consider what guilty pleasures we hide and harbor in our lives: the things that “leave a residue, an oily stain; contain a quality of obsession, guilt, anxiety; bring disappointment; hijack us—promising to make us feel better but than failing” because we are looking for a “restless escape from troubles; we want a BREAK because we are bored/lonely, stressed/frustrated/worn out, hurt/betrayed/treated unfairly.” So “we grab for anything hat will protect, soothe, comfort, or save us” because we do not want to face our pain.
- I think we were also extremely encouraged by Dr. Powlison’s “Action Plan”: First of all, we were to STOP and ENJOY. Really enjoy. Figure out what proves truly restful and what nourishes us with no residual guilt, exhaustion, or unrest. And then we were to take a one-week fast from our impulsive/compulsive “guilty pleasures.” To do this, we would absolutely need the help of our Savior—and praise God, we have everything we need for life and godliness in Him.
I hope these notes are helpful to you. Talking about hidden, habitual sins and ruling lusts is NOT easy (!), but I can say with all my heart that bringing the light and love of real, prayerful fellowship that is centered around the Word of God has been life changing for me (and I think some of the other women in the study might say the same thing).
One of the worst lies in our lives is when we think we are the ONLY ONES who struggle. It’s just not true! And it keeps us from redemptive relationships; safe and loving friendships; and help to change. I am so grateful for the help I have received and am receiving to help me to change to be conformed more into the image of Jesus Christ … God Himself is at work and He is definitely using people as well.
Blessings to you and much love!
I came up with the title “disordered affections” after reading a bunch of books/articles, etc. on the topic and after my blog on “Recovering from a Lifetime of Disordered Eating” went crazy stats-wise with hundreds of readers from all over the world who were not regular visitors. When Fred read the title in our church’s bulletin, he teased me a bit about how archaic it was and how vague it was (“What do that even mean?! Is it from the Valley of Vision or something?”). But I stuck with it because I like it quite a lot—it’s a better fit for me than “addiction” or even “idolatry” (although both of those terms are helpful to me in understanding aspects of my heart struggle).
[A re-post from 2013]